What is it about the early season and injuries to top BG players?
That was sort of a rhetorical question, because I don’t really think anyone has an answer. Not-quite-but-nearly a year to the day (356 days, if you want to be exact) after BG lost Andrew Hammond to an elbow injury last season, the Union Hockey Blog reported, via Chris Bergeron’s spoken word, that Ryan Carpenter will be out indefinitely with a hand injury.
The injury occurred during the Falcons’ 7-1 exhibition win against Wilfred Laurier on Saturday.
So let’s go back to that rhetorical question. Is it players’ bodies not being ready for the rigors of the season? Is it bad luck? Is it the hockey gods trying to smite BG for some reason probably stemming from something someone did 20 years ago? If I had to guess, it’s probably the second one.
OK, that’s unfair to say. It’s definitely the second one. I feel safe in completely ruling out this being some sort of negative medical trend. Go back a year to Hammond’s injury: he hyperextended his elbow when his stick got caught in the net. Carpenter messed up his hand. These were two freak, completely unrelated issues that just happened to be early in the season and happened to be the most important players to the Falcons.
As for the hockey gods? C’mon, if you didn’t laugh at that then you disappoint me. Or it wasn’t really that funny. I’m gonna go with it wasn’t that funny.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to the bigger issue at hand (wow I realized that re-reading this, no pun intended): what in the world does this mean for the Falcons?
I mean, we’re not even into the regular season; the Falcons have high hopes. Now they will be without their leading scorer from the past two seasons “indefinitely.”
Let’s get off track again and have a little lesson about the word “indefinitely.” It’s not always as scary as it sounds. Basically it just means they don’t know how long he’s going to be out, or don’t want to put a timeframe on it and cause him to rush back.
It all depends on how his hand responds to the surgery, how quickly the swelling goes down, how he can deal with the pain, if there are any setbacks, etc. As a frame of reference, I did a little digging on hand injuries that required surgery, just for kicks. Earlier this year, San Francisco Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong missed about two and a half months after he had five pins inserted into his hand after he broke it.
But then again, Jake Sloat missed the entire season last year after breaking his leg in the exhibition game, so what do I know? There’s a reason I didn’t go into medicine.
NOW, we can finally circle back to what that means for BG. In the short term, it means a tough weekend series against Union just got tougher. Along with Carpenter, Dajon Mingo is also out this weekend, meaning two of BG’s top three scorers from last year will be watching as the team takes on the No. 16 Dutchmen.
Long term? There’s nothing good about losing you’re No. 1 center, you’re co-captain, the guy who led your team in scoring the last two years. I think everyone associated with or fans of the team expected him to take another step forward this year. He still very well could do that, but if I had to bet it won’t be until around Christmas, at the earliest.
Someone else has to step up. I don’t think he would publicly admit to it, but I would think Bergeron expects Cam Wojtala to shoulder a significant part of that load. That’s the guy I would look at, at least.
Also a co-captain, this is the time for Wojtala to step up and control this team, both with his play and with his leadership. He’s a senior now, the first recruit Bergeron personally signed. Quite a few people I talked to at the time of his commitment in summer 2010 believe that if he was fine with playing another season of junior hockey in the USHL, he’d be at a “more prestigious” program right now.
After a strong sophomore year that saw him post 23 points in 42 games, he fell back to 16 in 37 games last year. I think there was already some pressure on him to re-elevate his game this year, but that sort of gets amplified now that he’s the de-facto No. 1 center for the foreseeable future.
But he’s just one guy who needs to step up. I single him out here because he’s, in all likelihood, going to be the guy who slots into Carpenter’s spot in the lineup. But if this team expects to compete for a top-three spot in the WCHA, they need everyone to step up. That was true before Carpenter got hurt. That’s especially true now.
Bryce Williamson, Adam Berkle, Dan DeSalvo, Mark Cooper, Ben Murphy. This list goes on. I think this team is deep enough at forward that you don’t have to throw one of the freshman into the fire, but if one of them steps up in this five games in nine days stretch and proves they can handle it, why not?
These next nine days are going to set the tone for the season. Kevin Meyers touched on it in the Falcon Hockey Weekly podcast: this team got off to a terrible start last year, winning four regulation games before New Years. The year before that, they had one CCHA regulation win in 14 games prior to winter break.
All five of these games — the two this weekend, one on Tuesday against Ohio State and two next weekend against Colgate — are tough games, but all are very winnable. If there’s a 1-4 stretch to start the season, there will be some people out there who give the obligatory, “man, they can’t win without Carpenter,” spiel. This team plays best when it’s confident. Having to listen to that after two weeks of the season is not going to be very confidence inspiring.
But, get off to a good start these next two weeks and the team starts to feel great. They’re playing with a confidence that we have seen in spurts during Bergeron’s tenure.
After all, a team is bigger than one player. No matter how good that player is, there is plenty of players on this team who are capable of excelling and making sure the Falcons don’t miss a beat.